Category Archives: Guatemala & Spain 2019

Guatemala: Living in the moment

Imagine this: riding a boat on Lago Atitlan, a lake so blue and beautiful, you can hardly believe the toxins and pollution it contains. A lake surrounded by tall green volcanoes covered in green trees, coffee plants, colorful, touristy markets, and people’s homes. Imagine wandering the streets, sun on your face, admiring and buying the beautiful textiles (which you can’t help but wonder who made them, and for what price), making (somewhat) feeble attempts at bargaining. Feeling somewhat out of your element, yet feeling oddly welcomed into a place that is know by some as “gringo-tenango”. Indigenous people walking the streets in traditional Mayan dress, as you drive past in a tuk-tuk or standing in the back of a pickup, laughing at the tears streaming down your faces from the wind. The warm hospitality you feel from being welcomed into a stranger’s home, eating the meals that they’ve prepared for you, and sleeping in the bed they’ve made for you. Breathing in the dust as you play soccer with the local children, your heart filling with joy as they gather around you, excitedly sharing all of the words that they know in English, chatting enthusiastically with you in Spanish, and attempting to teach you some words in their native tongue, tz’utujil. Trying to live in the moment, taking in all of the sights and sounds, watching all of the people you pass by, a spectator in their everyday lives.

-Ruth Reimer-Berg

My weekend in Coban was a beautiful experience. It opened my eyes … staying with a family that did not have much, and realizing these people are still happy and grateful for what they have. I kept looking at my life and their life, and thought about how much of a privilege it is to be able to go to school, it’s also a privilege to be able to travel, have a car etc. It was beautiful to see my host mom and her kids gathered around the fire interacting with each other.

-Akiel Baker

Do No Harm

After reading an article titled “Do No Harm”

This article really struck me and pleased me at the same time.  I’m not exactly sure why, but I have this negative connotation towards mission groups.  I loved hearing [the article’s author] Dennis Smith’s sharp critique on this subject. I can’t quite pin where this judgment for mission trips stems from for me, but as I have grown and have expanded my views on religion, the thought of going on a church-based trip – with the belief that it is a “God-given right” to help people in Central America – with a group who, most likely, is mostly white, does not seem very enlightening to me.  While I was reading Smith’s article, I couldn’t help but think about all of the week-long mission groups that have passed through CASAS; most of them white, most of them with the same sized luggage that I brought for an entire semester, and most of them with little to no Spanish skills. This article, while it brought more views and a great critique to the table about week-long mission trips, did not make me feel uncomfortable. I maybe felt embarrassed for the culture that we Americans bring to others, like Guatemala’s hospitable culture.  I think that’s one of the biggest setbacks I have as a student being here in Guatemala. It’s hard for anyone to set their culture aside and embrace the culture surrounding them, but I’ve truly tried to make a conscious choice to be aware of the culture around me and be respectful of it.

I’m not sure if I’m correct, but the biggest “lesson” that I take away from this reading is, if you aren’t willing to take the time to appreciate and learn about other cultures, a mission trip trying to “help” the “poor third world country” is really doing more harm than anything else.  To me, it only reiterates the subconscious dominance we feel with our American culture.

-Lori Armstrong

Guatemala: To be Mayan


There are many things I’ve learned about the Maya, many things I’ve seen and felt and read. To be Mayan is to carry weight. Literally, Mayans carry weight all the time — baskets on their heads, bundles on their backs. But, in another sense, there is a greater more permanent weight that Mayans carry. This is a historical weight. This is a weight of rich culture, of back-bending harms done, of stories told and not told, of traditions lost to modernization.

In some ways, the Mayans I have seen carry this metaphorical weight more visibly than the baskets or the bundles. It is in their stature, in the way they walk, in the way they avert their eyes and choose their words. It is the physical legacy of societal harm done and continued

And where is the beauty of this culture? They carry that too. And too many times it’s the only thing we see.


Cacao to Chocolate

Cacao to Chocolate

I am a colony of cacao beans,

sitting in my shell nobody to disturb me

A loud crack heard,

the shell that I call home is being broken into.

Five long fleshy weird things from the bright blue abyss,

reach out and grab me from the only place I know

I’m then wrapped in a blanket of green

for days upon days.

My new home starts to grow on me

though I’m then exposed to a very intense light from above

that strips me of all my moisture.

The five long fleshy weird things return

Only to toss me on a flat surface surrounded by fire,

A heavenly scent soon reaches me

I then realize it’s coming from me.

Once the fire dissipates I”m thrown into

Some sort of half sphere,

Where an oval-y rock comes out of nowhere and beats me.

After hours of torture I discovered that

I’ve taken on a new form,

One similar to liquid but rather sticky.

I’m suddenly pushed into a silver cylinder

Along with white sprinkles, a yellow rectangle

white powder, and clear liquid

where we are then spun around and around

until we become one.

The giant being from above shouts,

“Chocolate con leche” with so much joy

They then devoured me until nothing of me was left

But I’ll gladly die knowing I made them happy.

-Skyy Brinkley

Guatemala: Welcome

“I feel tall,” said Maya as we were talking about what we noticed in Guatemala after a week. I couldn’t help but laugh at her comment because I couldn’t relate and I thought it was comical. I actually feel like I am an average size here in a funny way. In the United States I am shorter [than most], but here I am not the shortest one. I have seen various people of different color, size, height, and languages.

The one difference that I admire and love about this country is the open society it is. Strangers just come up to talk to you and acknowledge your presence. People are so welcoming and friendly. I sometimes wonder if America could ever be that way. While walking around, I see and feel the liveliness this country has. The streets are filled with people, the kids are filling up the playground, the traffic is full of cars and buses filled with people, and there is not a place where people are not gathering.


Despite the corrupt government, tragic history and living conditions, the people in Guatemala open their arms and homes to newcomers. I have experienced that during my stay with my host family and CASAS. They welcomed us as well as encouraged us to learn and understand their country to deepen our connection with them. They also want us to try to learn the language, even if we mispronounce words or speak in Spanglish. I have learned so much about this country already, but there is more to know. I am eager to see what all I’ll learn and see in this beautiful, welcoming country as we continue our travel.

-Liz Huffman

Guatemala: The Border

From our first week in Xela, Guatemala and Tapachula, Mexico where we learned about migration throughout Central America into Mexico.

Response to the Border

From the moment we all walked up the steps that over looked the border, I was rendered speechless. I saw sand and graffiti on the buildings and walls and my interest was piqued. As we walked along the wide path into the local community, I noticed people staring at our small group of diverse students. Some of the people in the local community blatantly walked up to members of our group and asked for things such as money or the technology that we had on us, and from that moment forward I had my guard up. As we walked further into the community, I kept noticing the locals checking us and I wondered what ran through their heads and what their impressions of us “Americans” were.

Another thing I noticed was our tour guide (journalist from Mexico who covers the border) checking his surroundings and checking on his camera and personal items. I wondered what it must be like for him, showing us foreigners around the border as people were crossing along the river. I noticed people within our own group getting antsy and wanting to leave. Being there at the border made me think about the hundreds of people that have crossed it or tried to cross it, and in that moment I felt sad for the people who have no choice but to leave their homes and country. I feel anger at the fact that people have to live like this and at the governments/countries at fault.

One of the last things I remember from the border is seeing a woman crossing the river that borders Mexico and Guatemala. It made me think of the stories my mother told me of her time growing up in South Sudan, walking miles along dirt roads with a bucket of water on her head. I thought how different my life could have been. As we parted ways with the journalist I thanked him for being vulnerable enough to show us the border and to be seen with us, regardless of what it might look like to the locals and what their thoughts of him were. His response to me was he feels like “it is his job to show people around the world what is going on in his country, in hope of spreading the word so that people who need it can get help.”

-Rebecca Yugga


Today we visited the border, near the city of Tapachula. Last night when we crossed into Mexico, it was dark, so we couldn’t actually see anything other than the official border crossing.

In the daylight, the stark contrast between the official, legal crossing and the unofficial crossing became much more apparent. At the official crossing, all our bags were checked twice, once for fruits and once for guns. We had to fill out cards with personal information, and we would be fined upon exit if we didn’t have a part of them (the cards). We had to wait in line for 30 minutes to get a stamp in our passports. At an unofficial crossing, it is possible to wade across the river in 15 minutes, or pay a raft 10 Quetzales for a trip across. Even more striking, however was the approximately equal police presence at the legal and the illegal police crossing. The police officer checking my bag for guns could have been strolling down the beach the next day, watching thousands of dollars of goods and hundreds of people cross the river.

It is certainly frustrating watching the governments’ indifference. We were searched twice waited more than an hour total, when we could have crossed the river on a raft like thousands of other people who don’t have the privilege of a powerful passport. To be clear, I’m not complaining about the small inconvenience my group experienced, but rather the arbitrariness of the border and how it is used to stratify people into those with enough money, power, or the right birthplace, and those who have none of those. And the authorities couldn’t care less?

I would cross the border on a raft to send a message. Not that the unofficial crossings should be shut down, but that the official border crossings should be shut down. They serve no purpose other than delegitimizing the economic necessity (of crossing the border daily) for thousands of people, Guatemalans and Mexicans alike.

-Andrew Nord


Guatemala: the highlands

On the road yet again. We’re in the highlands, the north. As we climb higher, the trees begin to look like home. Everything else is different, but the rolling hills, the mountains, and the pine trees echo home. There is not ten feet of straight road. The car wash signs on the side of the road are inexplicable in English. I see Mayan women in traditional dress walking with young children. There is graffiti on the cliff sides, worn away, but still present. We pass old school buses traveling up the mountains and they pass us back traveling down.

There is almost no piece of land that is not in use. Even the steep slopes are marked by the lines where corn and other foods meet. Groups of bikers brave the long climb punctuated at either end by cars or motorcycles for protection. From here the cities look like toy villages, the kind I used to play with as a child. Still there are signs and billboards that break my enchantment, gas prices and tire repairs, fast food and pain relievers, mattresses and resorts, reminds of everything human everything broken and beautiful, pass us by on the road to the border.

-Olivia Dalke


Guatemala: First Impressions

A successful day of travel from EMU was finished with fruit and sandwiches around 10 pm. The next morning we awoke to cool air and hot sunshine. Recorded below are our first, short impressions of Guatemala and CASAS from that first morning.
Akiel: beautiful scenery
Rebecca:  I was like “wow”.
Ruth: This place is so beautiful and there’s so much to take in.
Skyy: The night was scary and dark, but the morning is beautiful.
Liz:  I just can’t find the words.
Jamie: There are diverse plants here.
Olivia: I feel a closeness with the space that I can’t describe
Lori: I feel back to myself, a whimsical feeling in this open air. Also I love all the succulents.
Kellie: Guatemala is similar to Costa Rica in its life, animals, and people.
Austin: When we arrived last night I noticed how everyone here felt really relaxed, but all the buildings have barbed wire on them.
Theo: I LOVE it. This place is so obviously different and it makes me excited to be here.
Andrew: Its pretty. There’s lots of Spanish and I don’t understand it.
Maya: The courtyard is cared for, but also so free. At night the streets are quiet.